Knole Unwrapped 2014…

…Book and Archive Conservation in the Gatehouse Tower

The Gatehouse Tower, viewed from within Green Court.

Today the Gatehouse Tower at Knole looks almost exactly as it would have done at the beginning of the seventeenth century. However this lack of significant change to the exterior is not reflected in the interiors which have been altered over the years to serve a number of different purposes ranging from accommodation to storage.

In the 20th century the rooms in the Gatehouse Tower were used by Edward (Eddy) Sackville West, 5th Baron Sackville. During the period from 1926- 1940 Eddy occupied these rooms just as his rooms at Eton or Oxford, they were never used as his permanent home. After Eddy left they were used by Frank Mason, an Estate worker and finally went out of use in the 1960s.

Eddy’s room in the Gatehouse Tower.

The first floor rooms still remain the same painted decoration from Eddy’s time and the bookshelves still house a collection of his books and papers. The room above has not survived as well and at some point the ceiling was removed. In the 1960s a collection of large folios of prints and outsize volumes from the main library were moved here, presumably to make some space in the library.

Second Room of the Gatehouse Tower.

Some of the books currently stored in the tower.

The collections of books, prints and papers had never been closely looked at and only recently came on loan to the National Trust. The collection initially has been catalogued. A professional cataloguer and a team of volunteers from Knole have been steadily working through everything listing, photographing and recording on COPAC and National Trust Collection Management System.

Following on from the success of last year’s Knole Unwrapped Project, this interesting collection of books, prints and papers was felt to be the ideal subject for Knole Unwrapped 2014. The collection urgently required condition recording, conservation cleaning and safe rehousing to enable it to be moved into store prior to building repairs to the Tower.

Learning from last year’s programme it was felt, with this projects focus being purely on books and paper, volunteer supervisors could be trained to run the programme.

Caroline Bendix, National Trust Library Conservation Advisor, gave a one day training course on basic conservation and stabilisation techniques for books to the supervisor group. This was then rolled out to the participants.



Book conservator, Caroline Bendix, demonstrates how to hold book open, this is incorrect.

The correct position to hold open a book, no more than a 90 degree angle.

The correct position to hold open a book, no more than a 90 degree angle.


Knole Unwrapped 2014 will have three sessions each lasting ten weeks with a new group for each intake. The group signs up for one day per week for ten weeks, and as well as carrying out essential documentation and conservation work, will receive training and opportunities to learn more about Knole and its collections.

Brushes used for book cleaning. Pony hair brush on the right for the book exterior; hogs hair brush on the left for book interior / pages.

Book cleaning practice.

Book cleaning practice.

The first session is now half way through and so far has been a success with the participants thoroughly enjoying their work and making great progress. The group is a wonderful mix of people from different backgrounds with a wide range of skills and knowledge: from a retired librarian to a student studying Musical History; existing Knole volunteers and a student applying to Conservation courses. No prior knowledge or skills are asked for when applying to participate, just an interest in books and conservation and a desire to learn.


Wheat starch is used for basic remedial repairs to torn and damaged boards and the corners of book boards.

Practicing repairing a book cover with wheat starch.

Practicing repairing a book cover with wheat starch.

Once building repairs to the Tower have been completed the collections will be reinstated and the Tower will open to visitors.




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